Everybody thinks that whether someone cheats or not depends on how much they respect their partner. I can’t speak for everyone, but the reason I don’t cheat has a less to do with the person I am with, and a lot more to do with myself.
We make choices every day as temptation swirls around us in all its magical forms. Get out of bed—or don’t. Work hard—or don’t. Apply to grad school—or don’t. Drink a beer—or don’t.
Every choice we make, no matter how small, has an impact on what we think of ourselves. In turn, your life situation is a reflection of what you believe about yourself. When you make choices that grate upon your system of beliefs and betray the person you want to be, you’re disrespecting yourself more than anyone else.
Maybe you could cheat on your partner successfully for a long time—
Maybe it feels like you’re having your cake and eating it too. It’s warm and safe in the effervescent candyland of denial. But at the end of the day, you’re the one who has to look yourself in the mirror and like the person you see. If you make decisions you don’t respect, you’re the one who suffers the most.
You could cheat on your boyfriend and he’d probably never find out. He trusts you completely and you have a healthy relationship. You could get away with murder. But then you’d have to wake up each day knowing what you’d done and knowing you don’t respect yourself. you’d have to live with the pain of your betrayal. You’d have to look straight in his loving, trusting gaze and send right it back, knowing how disgustingly unworthy you are.
And then once there’s a hole in your moral dam, why not indulge in a few more immoral gratifications? A lie here, a betrayal there, a slippery slope. You’d spin bulletproof webs of justification. Slowly your moral compass would loosen and swing free. Before too long, you wouldn’t know who you are. It’d be so foggy and empty inside that you wouldn’t be capable of finding any truth and integrity inside yourself, let alone recognizing it in others. You’d begin to doubt that you’re a good person. You’d trust no one, especially you. Pretending things are fine is all that you’d have. So you’d cling to it.
Sometimes, it’s not just a few random mistakes that chip away at your sense of self. It can be years of poor decisions that you didn’t even see until they’d stitched together and woven a tapestry of confusion. A beautiful tapestry that keeps you warm and comfortable, but oppressed at the same time—pinned down, lying in the bed you made.
How did all these choices come together to create a version of yourself that you don’t like?
Maybe all these decisions felt right and perfect in the moment. And you remember why you made them. But now, deep down inside you know it’s all wrong. You’re dying, you’re suffocating, you hate yourself. And what’s scarier is, you haven’t a clue how to fix it.
But then the next minute things seem so fun and easy, and do you really have it that bad? Could it work out after all? Are you worrying for nothing? Yes…yes. It’s so easy to pretend…
Figuring out how to escape the oppression of your own life choices is one of the toughest challenges in life. Some people never succeed. They creep toward old age feeling like sad wasted sacks of organic matter, garbage bags caught in the breeze. Sometimes you have to put yourself outside your comfort zone and make some really painful decisions to set things right. And it’s a slow process. Nothing ever happens overnight, if it’s worthwhile. But pain and struggle is better than feeling nothing, right?
Nothingness is life’s default setting for a failed mission. It’s resolving yourself to the path you’re on and not thinking you have the strength or the will to do better. But you do and you can. One of the greatest things about traveling and living abroad is that it forces you to completely change your lifestyle. I clearly don’t have all the answers and I have to keep working hard to make the right choices. But for anyone who knows what it’s like to feel out of control of your life and totally off track (professionally, romantically, economically), the best advice I have is not to dwell on the past or the future. The future happens one decision at a time and we are imperfect beings. Try to think of the thing you dislike the most about yourself, and work on that, only that.
And, when faced with temptation, be selfish. Think of yourself first. Can you live and love the person who gives in? Will it be worth it?